The Truth About a Weekend in Austin

A quick trip to the capital of Texas is a much different experience than travel writers would have you believe

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A regular feature at The New York Times advises readers on how to spend 36 hours in various cities: Chicago! Panama City! Singapore! Every time I see these items their intended appeal takes effect. I imagine jetting off to survey the streets of some unfamiliar place. Sampling its cuisine. Grabbing a drink with that one friend, assuming he or she still lives there after all these years.

I've just returned from a weekend trip of that sort. My girlfriend and I spent somewhat longer than "36 hours in Austin, Tex," attending a wedding and exploring a cityscape we'd rushed through on a prior road trip. We're blessed to travel well together, and agreed that we had a great time: I give to the Lone Star state's capitol the official label, "good destination to visit." But I'll level with you: there's a lot about quick weekenders that other travel writers gloss over. As a counterbalance, I present the good and bad of this trip with the normal emphasis exactly reversed.


4 AM

Curse the fact that you're due at the airport in eight hours, but haven't slept or even packed yet due to completing work tasks you won't be able to access on plane. Briefly consider just staying up and sleeping for duration of flight, until extreme fatigue sets in 45 minutes later. Finally lay down to bed exhausted but unable to fall asleep due to knowledge of how awful you'll feel "in the morning" if you don't immediately fall asleep. Conceive excellent idea for blog post. Fumble around for iPhone, type it into notes. Return to tossing, turning, even less able to fall asleep than before.

2 PM

Nod off in aisle seat. Awake with crick in neck. Try to rest head on girlfriend's shoulder. Fail. Wish you'd chosen a window so you could lean against side of cabin. Awake again with vague need to use bathroom, but aversion to shuffling through crowded cabin. Attempt to read long magazine article since you paid $8 for newsstand copy in terminal, only to discover you already read all the best stories online. Ponder fetching head phones from the overhead bin, but decide it's more trouble than it's worth. Again fail to fall asleep. Stare drowsily at tv screen on back of seat in front of you, trying to discern plot of The Nanny from facial gestures of characters.

5:30 PM

Drive economy rental car, an "or equivalent," down highway, navigating by Google map on iPhone because it seems unfathomable to spend $55 to rent a GPS, especially since you've got one at home you should've thought to pack. Driving away from airport, see landmark that gives first impression of city, a "gentleman's club" called "The Landing Strip." Groan to self at pun.

6:45 PM

Sit in room at Super 8 motel wondering with growing frustration how an establishment can have six separate wifi networks, none of which work when the password written on the room key-card envelope is entered. Spend 35 minutes trying each network in succession. Fail to get online, despite surfeit of bars indicating that you're at full strength. Call the front desk inquiring about whether they can fix the problem. Listen as clerk tells you she'll turn the router off and then on again. Hang up. Sit impatiently. Notice in surprise that laptop has finally connected to the Internet. Realize in horror that front desk clerk is about to reset the suddenly functional system.

Pick up phone to cal - too late.

10:05 PM

Sit in lobby, having finally connected to a wifi network that isn't accessible from room. Check clock on laptop. See that it's only 8:05, and conclude that you've got time to get more work done before returning upstairs so you can go out for a nice dinner with girlfriend. Get text from her wondering what's taking you so long, and worrying that all restaurants are going to close. Suddenly realize that it is in fact after ten o'clock. Time zones! Hurry upstairs, feeling guilty for having kept her waiting so long. Jump in car, drive toward downtown Austin, and consult Yelp iPhone ap for restaurants that are still open. Feel guilty when selections don't include any on list of places girlfriend wanted to try. Get bailed out by good food and salsa bar at Mexican joint where at adjacent table sits a hipster cowboy: flannel shirt, skinny jeans, and exactly the boots you'd imagine.

3:43 AM

Back in hotel lobby finishing up work for evening. Witness long, faintly absurd conversation between likely escort locked out of room upon going downstairs to get Coke from vending machine, and dutiful motel clerk, who is firm in insisting that he can't give her a key, even if likely John is passed out and isn't answering knocks or his cell phone, unless she can show identification. Think that she has a solid point when she insists that her leopard print halter top and hot pants don't have any pockets for ID, which she could show if he'd just let her back into the room, but see his predicament too.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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